FEMA, NPR Partner on Emergency Alert Preparedness for Deaf and Hard-of-Hearing

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FEMA, NPR Partner on Emergency Alert Preparedness for Deaf and Hard-of-Hearing

Oct 23, 2013 4:20 PM

Washington, DC - Oct 22, 2013 - The Department of Homeland Security's (DHS's) Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) announced a cooperative pilot project with National Public Radio's (NPR's) technology research and development group, NPR Labs, to demonstrate the delivery of the first-ever, real-time emergency alert messages to people who are deaf or hard-of-hearing in five Gulf states.

Twenty-five NPR-affiliated public radio stations throughout Alabama, Florida, Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas agreed to participate in the pilot project to transmit emergency alert messages, such as weather alerts, to 475 individuals who are deaf or hard-of-hearing in the stations' listening areas to determine how effectively the messages are being sent and received. The Gulf State region was selected for the demonstration because it is often subjected to extreme weather conditions. Individuals participating in the project will receive alert and warning messages through specially designed receivers capable of displaying the text messages.

"FEMA is committed to providing equal access to effective communication for people who are deaf or hard-of-hearing as information must be accessible to be actionable," said Damon Penn, assistant administrator for FEMA's National Continuity Programs Directorate. "FEMA has been working with NPR's technology research and development group to identify key resources and radio stations to demonstrate whether special receivers made exclusively for people who are deaf or hard-of-hearing will help them receive emergency alerts. We hope the data and experiences gained from the demonstration will be used to help improve this specialized technology."

The public radio stations participating in the pilot will receive emergency alert messages from FEMA's Integrated Public Alert and Warning System (IPAWS), where the network operations center of the Public Radio Satellite System (PRSS) will uplink the warnings to the participating stations. The stations will then broadcast the emergency alerts to specially designed FM Radio Data System (RDS) radio receivers that alert the participants with a flashing indicator. The receivers can display the alert message through the receiver's display, and the participants can connect a strobe light or bed-shaker alerting device to the receiver, helping ensure alerts are noticed day and night.

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NPR Labs Nipper One

"This demonstration project is a crucial first step in improving the technology for people who are deaf or hard-of-hearing during emergencies," said Mike Starling, executive director, NPR Labs. "I want to sincerely thank the 25 stations for agreeing to participate in this demonstration project that is working to test the latest technology to ensure that all individuals, including those who are deaf or hard-of-hearing, can be informed of emergencies when electricity, the Internet and other communications channels are unavailable."

FEMA, designated by the DHS to implement a U.S. public alert and warning system, established the IPAWS system to provide the president with a way to address the American people during a national emergency. FEMA has been working with numerous public and private industry stakeholders to ensure that emergency alerts can be delivered simultaneously through multiple communications pathways. The National Weather Service uses IPAWS to send Wireless Emergency Alerts to participating cell phone carriers, who sends the alerts to cell phones.

NPR manages the Public Radio Satellite System (PRSS), which is the distribution network that delivers news, music, and specialized programming to public radio stations throughout the United States reaching 27 million listeners each week. The initiative is a joint effort with NPR Labs under a contract with DHS's Science and Technology Directorate and FEMA's National Continuity Programs. NPR Labs' mission is to identify, evaluate, and advance the application of innovative technologies in support of the public service mission of NPR and its 900 member stations. NPR Labs was established in 2005 and is located at NPR headquarters in Washington, DC.

FM participating stations:
Alabama: WUAL, Tuscaloosa; WBHM, Birmingham; WLRH, Huntsville; WJAB, Huntsville
Florida: WUSF, Tampa; WLRN, Miami; WPBI, West Palm Beach; WUFT, Gainesville; WMFE, Orlando; WFSU, Tallahassee; WGCU, Fort Meyers; WJCT, Jacksonville; WQCS, Fort Pierce
Louisiana: KDAQ, Shreveport; WWNO, New Orleans; WRKF, Baton Rouge; KRVS, Lafayette
Mississippi: WMPN, Jackson
Texas: KERA, Dallas; KUHF, Houston; KETR, Commerce; KUT, Austin; KMBH, Harlingen; KEDT, Corpus Christi and KVLU, Beaumont.

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